AND THEN THERE’S MAUDIE

Film cel­e­brates unique Cana­dian artist whose un­likely life be­came her can­vas

Montreal Gazette - - MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT

Cana­dian folk artist Maud Lewis lived in a house so tiny that today it sits com­fort­ably inside a room at the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia. The first floor is so squat that the nor­mal-sized door meets the ceil­ing, and there seems so lit­tle room for the sec­ond that the pres­ence of a rough­hewn stair­case looks like it might be a trick of the light.

Ir­ish di­rec­tor Ais­ling Walsh has ex­pertly re-cre­ated this mi­nus­cule shack, and the larger-thanlife woman who in­hab­ited it for al­most 30 years. In the sec­ond task she has been ably as­sisted by Sally Hawkins, cre­at­ing a warm, hu­mane per­for­mance of a woman who, grow­ing up in the early years of the last cen­tury, might have been la­belled a crip­ple, and per­haps “funny.” (She suf­fered from life­long arthri­tis and was so­cially awk­ward.)

As told in Maudie, young Lewis (née Dow­ley) is liv­ing with her aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose) in Digby, N.S., and chaf­ing un­der the

woman’s con­trol­ling pres­ence. When she sees a help-wanted ad in the gen­eral store for a live-in house­keeper, she im­pul­sively heads down the road to the home of Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), which doesn’t look big enough to han­dle a live-in gold­fish. Lewis prob­a­bly had to go out­side just to stretch his think­ing, al­though in the early go­ing there’s lit­tle ev­i­dence of that.

Brutish in the man­ner of a Brontë anti-hero, he barks at her from their first meet­ing, and in one cringe­wor­thy scene hauls off and smacks her.

It is a tes­ta­ment to Hawke’s com­mit­ted yet un­showy per­for­mance that both he and the film are able to re­cover from this wan­ton do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Maud qui­etly as­serts her­self as an equal part­ner in what would soon be­come a mar­riage, han­dling what­ever book­keep­ing is re­quired of an itin­er­ant, un­let­tered fish ped­lar, and paint­ing colour­ful na­ture scenes on the side. (Some­times lit­er­ally, as in on the side of their house.)

Maud finds an early pa­tron in San­dra (Kari Match­ett), a New Yorker with a Katharine Hep­burn ac­cent who’s va­ca­tion­ing in the Mar­itimes, and both clearly feel they’ve made a deal when San­dra agrees to pay $5 (plus postage!) for one of her tiny oil paint­ings.

A news­pa­per story then leads to a visit from a CBC cam­era crew, and grow­ing fame. The pas­sage of the years is ev­i­dent only from the in­creas­ingly mod­ern cars that some­times stop at their house, and from the news that “vice-pres­i­dent Nixon” wants one of her works. (The artist died in 1970.)

As won­der­ful as the per­for­mances are, I have to go back to that house.

In real life, it is about three me­tres on a side, smaller than most gar­den sheds. The crew cre­ated a replica that was just a touch larger in each di­men­sion to al­low for eas­ier film­ing, and we watch as the years pass and Lewis grad­u­ally fills up the dark walls, the door and even the win­dow with brightly coloured images.

This is a painter whose can­vas was her life, and whose life her can­vas. Maudie is a mag­nif­i­cent cel­e­bra­tion of both.

MON­GREL ME­DIA

Ethan Hawke, left, and Sally Hawkins give won­der­ful per­for­mances in Nova Sco­tia-set Maudie.

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